by Stacy Kramer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Karma Bites / 978-0-547-36301-1
Being in middle school can be very hard, with lots of capacity for angst and general drama, so it seems like Francisco's dreams have come true when she finds a magic box tucked away in her grandmother's closet. She has every intention of using the box for good - what harm could come from helping her friends reconnect (as well as her divorced parents!) and causing some much-needed morale boosts at school - but when the magic starts going horribly wrong, Franny learns that she's way out of her league!
This is a cute little magic-gone-awry story that probably most tween girls will enjoy. The slang usage and name-dropping will probably date the novel horribly (do 12-year-olds care about Justin Timberlake anymore?), but the overall tale will likely amuse long enough to the end, for the target audience.
As cute as this story is, though, I somehow doubt it will age well or reach far outside its target audience. The setup of the school - against which ALL the drama occurs - is too alien and foreign. The middle school children have segregated themselves completely according to clique, to the extent that the narrator notes that the caste system in India is more flexible and less brutal. The school features these incredibly large steps, you see, and every morning every student MUST gather on their given step according to hobby and social status. Then "The Libby" (TV Trope) shows up and opens the door with great fanfare and then and only then may everyone enter. If you try to enter early, the Libby's guards force you back. If you talk to anyone outside your social circle, you're shunned for life. Etc. Some of this is handwaved slightly in the book, but even at the end the caste system is still fairly firmly in place as the natural order of things, which is (a) bizarre and (b) a rather Family Unfriendly Aesop.
All this wouldn't be so bad, but the author should be aware that readers will accept the impossible (magic) but not the improbable (this bizarre and unprecedented caste system of 12-year-olds). I suspect that *actual* 12-year-olds will enjoy the book because it's entirely possible that middle school may *seem* like a caste system when you're in the middle of it, but adults will probably feel a bit of a grind through the unrealistic setup and rather predictable story line.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll
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